Millennials Show Conservative Streak

Wary of economic recession and volatile markets, young workers are going the way of their grandparents and great-grandparents when it comes to investments and money management.

Data from the quarterly UBS Investor Watch report shows that by some key measures, Millennials are the most fiscally conservative generation since those who came of age during the Great Depression. And while Millennials tend to value and seek advice, financial services professionals must compete with spouses and family members to win the generation’s ear.

UBS finds Millennials’ attitudes about money, risk and success have been shaped mainly by two phenomena. These include access to rapid technological innovation and dramatic economic volatility that has constrained employment prospects and earning abilities. Also important to Millennials is the disruption in their parents’ wealth prospects caused by the recent financial crises, especially depressions in real estate values and retirement savings lost to tumbling markets.

Report data shows that concern is a two-way street. The parents of Millennial workers worry that their children will have a harder time achieving financial stability and success—and they feel they must help along the way.

Despite Millennials’ use of and interest in technology and social media, the generation is no more self-directed than other generations when it comes to making investment decisions and setting financial goals. Rather than relying exclusively on media and online sources, Millennials report that they prefer face-to-face advice from people they trust—particularly family members or a family-referred adviser.

The upshot for advisers is that building trust and long-term relationships with Millennials or their parents may be a good way to win business from the groups.  

Millennials show an even stronger conservative streak when it comes to such things as asset allocations and risk tolerance. For instance, Millennials tend to associate the term “risk” directly with permanent portfolio losses, rather than merely the chance of loss. They also hold more than half of their investable assets in cash, with less than one-third (28%) in equities.

Compared with all older generations, Millennials hold about twice the cash and half the equities. As UBS points out, this attitude is in direct conflict with traditional long-term investment allocation advice. In the report, UBS calls Millennials the most worried of all generations.

Those worries are already extending to retirement, with 39% of Millennials saying they are “highly worried” that they won’t have enough money set aside to retire at the traditional age. Three in 10 Millennials are worried they will have to be financially responsible for aging parents.

To address those worries, Millennials are staying conservative and looking to build steady, long-term wealth, the report finds. More than eight in 10 (83%) Millennials are not trying to outperform the markets, and a significant proportion (24%) focus primarily on how they’re doing compared with their individual financial goals—rather than comparing investment performance to the markets.

Other telling figures from the report show Millennials are skeptical of long-term investing as a way to achieve financial success, suggesting advisers have a steep task in pushing younger workers to invest the way traditional glide path allocation strategies demand. And while all generations view working hard and living frugally as key factors for achieving success, Millennials are the most likely to have this view—with only 28% saying long-term investing will take them to financial success.

In addition, Millennials are the least likely to invest new sources of money, with only 12% saying that they would invest new income streams, compared with 33% of investors in older generations. Instead, Millennials prioritize paying down debt, especially college loans.

For advisers, perhaps the most significant finding in the report is that only 9% of Millennials made their last key financial decision without consulting someone. But unlike other generations, Millennials are more likely to consult their spouse, parents or friends. While some do research online, young workers are no more likely than other generations to use online sources for key financial advice. Just 14% of Millennials have an outstanding relationship with a financial adviser.

A full copy of the UBS Investor Watch report, which is compiled quarterly by the financial services firm UBS Wealth Management Americas and incorporates input from thousands of investors, is available here.